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I would jump at the chance to have a pet dinosaur.  Despite five movies (and counting) focused on just why this would be a terrible idea, there’s still something appealing about it.  I already share my space with a miniature panther; a chicken-sized dinosaur would probably be just as happy to sleep under a pile of blankets on the couch.  Whether it and my easily offended cat would get along is a different concern.

 

Dinosaurs capture the imaginations of people of all ages.  Whether these creatures are searching for the Great Valley, solving crimes with Whoopi Goldberg, or just a pile of bones in a museum, there’s something incredibly appealing about these ‘terrible lizards.’  Especially those large enough to tower over people.

 

Of course, I could have a pet dinosaur.  They just go by a different name now: birds.  Anyone who’s dealt with swans, geese, or particularly aggressive roosters would likely spot the similarities to their ancestors.  Swans and geese are large enough to cause a person damage; just ask the Cambridge University rowers in the UK who had run-ins with Mr. Asbo and his descendants, Asboy and Asbaby.  Chickens may be smaller, but I can personally attest that those beaks are sharp and the spurs on a rooster’s legs can cut skin when they attack you from behind - like the bane of my farm existence, my parents’ Polish rooster, Tolliver.

 

Still, the idea of owning a bird is different from the idea of owning a creature ten, twenty, thirty times bigger, with a mouthful of razor sharp teeth and claws to match.  That doesn’t mean I don’t still want a pet dinosaur; I just reluctantly acknowledge a pet T. rex would probably be dangerous.  No matter how much I might want to sic it on the pickups tailgating me on my daily commute.  T. rex has always been my favourite and the history of its fossils is fascinating to dive into.

 

The largest, best preserved T. rex fossil found to date is FMNH PR 2081, commonly known as SUE.  Discovered in August 1990 by Sue Hendrickson, SUE the T. rex spent most of the 1990s at the center of a legal dispute over ownership of their bones.  SUE was eventually purchased for $8.3 million by the Field Museum in Chicago, and still resides there.  SUE can be followed on Twitter @SUEtheTrex (where they declare not only their nonbinary status but also that they’re a LARGE M U R D E R B I R D and who hasn’t felt that way every now and then) and had a documentary made about them in 2014 called Dinosaur 13, available on DVD and Blu-ray.

 

Although possibly the most famous of the fossils under ownership dispute, SUE isn’t the only one.  In 2012, a fossil collector named Eric Prokopi brought a tarbosaurus skeleton from Mongolia to the UK.  It was later sold in New York for $1 million, but the Mongolian government halted the sale with the complaint that their Constitution declared all dinosaur fossils to be culturally significant and illegal to remove without government permission.

 

Prokopi was charged and convicted - via a guilty plea - of multiple counts of felonious smuggling.  This not only caused the return of the disputed tarbosaurus skeleton, but also the return of more than 18 other fossils; enough that Mongolia was able to open a new dinosaur museum in Ulaanbaatar.  The case was the subject of a 2014 article written by Paige Williams for The New Yorker: “The Black Market for Dinosaurs.”

 

Four years later, Williams has published a book diving more deeply into both the case and the world surrounding it.  The Dinosaur Artist is a combination of paleontology and true crime, exploring the fine line between the advancement of our scientific knowledge and the private collectors’ market.  These collectors pay high prices to claim these bones, in part as a status symbol, but maybe also driven by the same desire I have: to keep a dinosaur as a pet.  By doing so, however, collectors prevent the fossils from being studied and hinder our knowledge about these ancient, magnificent animals.

 

I know that I’ll never have a pet dinosaur.  Even if we were able to bring them back, it’s unlikely that dinosaurs would ever be classified as pets, easily adoptable from the local Humane Society.  Regular lizards – geckos, iguanas, bearded dragons – require specialized care as it is.  And despite the increasing population of urban chickens, city councils would probably draw the line at urban dinosaurs.  Even the small ones.  The idea is still fun to fantasize about, however, and as long as there are books, movies, and novelty T-shirts keeping dinosaurs alive, I’ll be waiting in line.

 

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